BIG GOVERNMENT SERIES: Second of three parts
Government reports are not known for plain language, much less candor. But in a report issued in March, Pentagon Inspector General Claude M. Kicklighter summed up what had been growing increasingly evident for years: Defense spending has been growing so rapidly that auditors can no longer keep track.
“We currently are not able to provide sufficient audit coverage of [Department of Defense] acquisition programs given the dollars expended by the department,” Mr. Kicklighter wrote. “The rapid growth of the DOD budget since FY 2000 leaves the Department increasingly more vulnerable to the fraud, waste and abuse that undermines the department’s mission.”
Mr. Kicklighter’s report noted that Pentagon spending had more than doubled during President Bush’s two terms in office, rising from “less than $300 billion to more than $600 billion.” Yet staffing levels in his department, which is charged with making sure money is not misspent, had “remained nearly constant.”
The resulting lack of oversight is one factor in an explosion in government spending over the past eight years. As documented by The Washington Times on Sunday, the Bush administration, which came to office as the champion of small government, has presided over the largest expansion in the size of government since Franklin D. Roosevelt mobilized the country to overcome the Great Depression and then fight World War II.
Bush administration officials acknowledge the numbers, but argue that the spending was needed to address new security threats posed by Islamist terrorists.
In fact, more than $5 trillion has been spent in that cause since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But a monthslong investigation and detailed examination of government audits show that much of that money was spent hurriedly, wastefully and without accountability.
In the view of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) - the auditing and investigative arm of Congress - the Pentagon’s hunger for increasingly complex weapons and computer systems has made it particularly vulnerable to wasteful spending.
But similar problems exist in other security-related departments and agencies - including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI - whose responsibilities and funding have ballooned since Sept. 11.
In one widely publicized case, the FBI contracted out for a new computer system in 2000 but changed the scope of the project after Sept. 11. As a result of complications and confusion, the program was scrapped in 2005 at a loss of $170 million to the taxpayer.
The FBI’s procurement specialists were so ignorant of the technology required to build such a system that they were “largely at the mercy of the contractors,” an inspector general’s report found.
A lack of digital literacy also tripped up the Transportation Security Administration, a branch of Homeland Security that in 2002 called for a national high-speed computer network.
Its procurement specialists initially estimated the cost at $1 billion but later told auditors they had no idea what it would cost because they did not know how it would work. A few years later, the estimate had risen to between $3 billion and $5 billion.
The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general’s office also found that overbilling by contractors contributed to the overrun.